Finisher: My Detroit Sprint Triathlon
The city of Detroit offers the world a dazzling skyline. Emily and I have been fortunate to view the historic buildings and streetscapes from a number of different downtown perches. The top of the Ren Cen. The roof of Cobo Hall. The People Mover. Windsor. The Z Lot. All incredible places to take in the grandeur of a city on the move. Recently, I had the chance to view Detroit from a most unique place: in the Detroit River, in a wetsuit, gasping for air as competitors all around me swam with the current alongside beautiful Belle Isle. The mighty Renaissance Center seemed to stare right at me as I freestyled my way through the river, competing in my first ever sprint triathlon. I never swam 500 meters or biked for 12 miles in a competition, but try as I might, the triathlon experience was definitely a memorable one.
Three months earlier, a good friend of mine at work talked me into signing up for the 3 Disciplines Belle Isle race in July. The challenge: swim 500 meters (0.31 miles) in the Detroit River, followed by a 20k (12.5 mile) bike ride around Belle Isle, and finish with a 5k (3.1 mile) run. Simply hearing about this race made me tired! I went back and forth in my mind for a few days, but ultimately signed up as a first-timer. I have access to a pool at the downtown YMCA, have a decent bike I bought for cheap off of Craigslist, and I definitely have two feet to run...so why not, right? I can do this! And so my training began.
Swimming definitely does not come naturally to me. I know how to swim, don’t get me wrong. But for this triathlon, I needed to learn how to swim. I had to learn how to glide through the water while using the least amount of energy. I wasn’t about to doggie paddle 500 meters, that’s for damn sure. If I’m going to swim, I said to myself, I’m going to do it right! I discovered an incredible program called Total Immersion through Tim Ferris’s podcast. When I put these principles into practice, I saw improvement in my swim form very quickly. The key to swimming effectively is not how strong or fast you can go, but to shape your body like a vessel, enjoying every stroke and swimming mindfully. It’s easier said than done, but after a few 6am sessions in the pool, I was feeling good about this part of the triathlon!
My bike on the other hand...sucks. It’s kind of a road bike and kind of a mountain bike, which doesn’t make my very aerodynamic when riding. I was tempted to plunk down a LOT of money on a brand new bike from a reputable company like Trek or Specialized, but even an entry level bike is very expensive. I wanted to run this race just to run it - I wasn’t concerned about my finishing time. So I stuck with my Diamondback bike that I bought from some dude on Craigslist for 300 bucks last year. It’ll get me through, I thought.
Now, I used to LOVE running on a regular basis. But over the years my bad form and eagerness to push my training to the limits kind of caught up with me. I developed plantar fasciitis in both feet more than once, and my shin splints never seemed to go away when starting a running program. Turns out, I was running with poor form all along. I started my running training very slowly for this race, barely jogging at 4.5 mph on most days. I paid close attention to my footstrike and made sure to stay below a specific heart rate to maximize aerobic conditioning. After some time, I really noticed an improvement in how I felt after a run. I even ran the Riverfront 5k a few weeks before the triathlon, just to prepare my body for what was to come! As time went on in my training, I felt ready to kick ass and check this off of my fitness bucket list.
Race day on Belle Isle was a bit chaotic. Competitors were scrambling to put their bikes in the right place, put on their wetsuits, and register with the race organizers. The island was definitely buzzing with excitement, and I made sure to acclimate my body to the chilly river temperature before starting the swim. Another buddy from work let me borrow his wetsuit, and I practiced taking it off and putting it on the night before. While I warmed up in the river, I heard a few loud shouts coming from behind me. I turned around, and there was Emily and our friend Alleigh, cheering me on and wishing me luck! It gave me a boost of confidence knowing I had a little fan base rooting me on.
As the horn started to signal the beginning of the race, I was quickly taken aback by the dozens of swimmers surrounding me. I tried to get into the rhythm I practiced in the pool, but also had to make sure to avoid getting kicked in the face by the guy in front of me! Unfortunately I never really found that rhythm, and combined with never training in a wetsuit, I got REALLY tired REALLY quickly. I had to turn over on my back a couple of times, just to catch my breath and get my bearings. But I managed to push through and complete the swim portion of the race, shedding my wetsuit on the beach for my not-so-trusty Diamondback bike.
My bike’s crappiness turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to catch my breath and slow my heart rate down from the challenging 500 meter swim. It must have looked like I was driving in a Model T, surrounded by a bunch of BMWs and Lamborghini’s. I was even passed up by 8-year-olds competing in the kids triathlon. No matter - I just wanted to finish for the sake of doing it!
After hopping off the bike, I began my 5k run. This portion of the race sent competitors through the Belle Isle Nature Preserve, which was quite pleasant and calming to run through. As I made my way to the finish line, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride come over me. Was I ready for this race? Hell no! But I eliminated my fears and mental weaknesses to accomplish something I didn’t think was capable only a few months earlier. All of the athletes who competed in the Belle Isle Triathlon inspired me to continue pushing my limits - not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Emily’s support throughout my training was very helpful and kept me going, even on days when I didn’t want to wake up at 4:30 and train.
Will I do another one? Probably. This experience reminded me that in life - run your own race. You aren’t competing against anybody but yourself. Practice, and practice with all of your might. And...get a better bike next time.